How Did I Ever Have Time to Work?

A brief reflection on adjusting to semi-retirement.

By Tessa, 65. Somers, VIC

Years back, a colleague of mine moved to New Zealand to live with her new partner. At the time, we were both Directors of Nursing at a large metropolitan health service. She gave up her high-powered job for love. But also, with the mind to retire. Six months later, she said, “life is great, I’m busy as. I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”

Maybe you’ve heard it before, or thought it yourself if you’ve transitioned from working to retirement. Life can be very busy. There’s so much to do once you stop working for a living. Friends to catch up with. Clubs to join. Pilates, yoga, dancing, ukulele, a choir, golf. Or perhaps tennis, for those with good knees and hips who can chase the ball around the court without collapsing.

Then there are all those arts and crafts activities and hobbies you had no time for in your working days. And we mustn’t forget the grandchildren — if you have them and they live close enough, or don’t mind driving to you or you to them to babysit, or just visit. But if they’re in another state or country, it’s FaceTime or Zoom and getting up in the wee hours to speak with them, hear their voices, touch their little faces, and blow kisses — albeit it through a screen. And when all that tires you out, there’s always the garden to water and all those veggies, herbs and flowers to grow. Oh, and books to read and collect — some of them on gardening. I’m exhausted just thinking about the possibilities!

No wonder we wonder how we ever had time to work with this much going on. And I thought by semi-retiring I would be slowing down!

I actually am, though. But it’s all very tempting. And while exploring some of the uncovered yearnings and parts of self I tucked away in order to make money, I’m also missing some elements of the work I did and grieving the loss of participation in the health and nursing workforce. Particularly at this time as we continue to endure the prolonged impact of the pandemic. So, when I receive a call-up to consider joining the ranks, vaccinating and testing those lining up and waiting hours to be seen, I am tempted to put my hand up. But then I remember why I decided to semi-retire, and I sit back down on the couch for a while instead and watch the young ones run around the Rod Laver Arena in the heat. Thinking through what life means now, and how I really want to spend the rest of my summers.

While exploring some of the uncovered yearnings and parts of self I tucked away in order to make money, I’m also missing some elements of the work I did and grieving the loss of participation in the health and nursing workforce.

But the bits I miss are about being a productive and contributing team member working with others on the mental health matters of this world. Part of the organisation, the hub. Identifying the problems and working out solutions.

I also miss using my professional expertise, and colleagues asking for my advice. And giving it. It’s the loss of the identity of self-as-professional. But equally, I happily relinquish the unnecessary meetings, unrealistic deadlines and the frustrations of organisational processes and time it can take for decision-making and service outcomes. The frequent waste of resources.

Another colleague, who is also semi-retired, recently reminded me that work is very grounding. It anchors us in the world and connects us in ways that make us feel part of the machine; something bigger. There are many ways to be connected outside a working life as well, and in the last two years — out of necessity — we’ve all had to find new and creative ways of doing this. Perhaps that’s the key to adjusting to this new chapter? Pivoting, and Zoom?

In the meantime, in the thrill and tension of it all, and the shedding of an old skin, I find new-parts-of-self in the world. The loss and letting go makes way for new narratives and vision. New brush strokes and a sketch pad with which to paint the future.

The question is not “how did I ever have time to work?” Rather, “there’s a lot I missed that I’m now ready to explore.” Including family, friends and the creative expression possible through writing.

In the meantime, I realise the importance of acknowledging that although I am calling this semi-retirement and I will be doing some work in the coming month, I’m entering a new age. The next scene. My swan song.

It’s an age that Erik Erikson terms, from a psychosocial development perspective, Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This is, according to Erikson (1950), when we reflect on and contemplate our accomplishments and either develop a sense of integrity and wholeness about them and our lives, or we experience feelings of bitterness, regret, and despair. 

Riding to tennis

I know the direction in which I would rather develop, as I traverse these coming twilight years. I know, too, that I now have to be more discerning financially and it helps to have structure in my day, my week, and beyond this feeling of I’m still on holiday. And this, alongside the growing reality that the community in which I live is becoming more like my village. The people who do and will journey with me through these retirement years and into older age. There is much to look forward to.

A footnote: I dusted off the pedals and rode to social tennis last night. In the sweat of a summer twilight, I made it round the court, red-faced and somewhat heavy-footed, without having a heart attack. And I enjoyed myself. Pat on the back for the physical activity! But moreover, the banter, fun and camaraderie of those on the court and then after for a chat and a beverage. We aced it. I had to push myself to go, though, and I’m glad, because it connected me with others in my community. Game, set and match.

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Lani Lip
Lani Lip
7 months ago

I like when i read something like this of a personal nature and I don’t see it as something that has been “written”. I liked the flow and was immersed in your experience straight away. That’s what to me is good writing. Enjoy your “retirement”

Tessa Moriarty
Tessa Moriarty
7 months ago

Thanks Lani. Appreciate your feedback. Tessa